VERDI: La Traviata (complete opera), Blu-ray
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Cast: Renee Fleming (Violetta)/ Joseph Calleja (Alfredo)/ Thomas Hampson (Giorgio) – Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House
Producer: Roland Ott
Director: Richard Eyre
Studio: Opus Arte BD7076, 2011 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD Color
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM Stereo 2.0
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
Extras: Cast Gallery; Antonio Pappano interviews Renee Fleming
Length: 154 minutes
After Anna Netrebko’s spectacularly sung but quirky and still-interesting Salzburg Eurotrash production a few years ago, I was curious as to how one of my favorite sopranos, Renee Fleming, would do in this role, her first attempt at it. Netrebko definitely comes away as more exciting. Even with the limited and stupid staging of Salzburg–I swear if she ever played Brunhilde she would literally throw herself in the fire for dramatic effect—she comes across as very vulnerable and emotionally fragile, especially at the critical ending. When she says that she feels better before falling dead we really believe her, and momentarily expect her full recovery! But she carries that entire production, such as it is, and ultimately we don’t get a real taste of what La Traviata is really about.
In this version we do. It is set when it is supposed to be set, and the conventions of the time regarding courtesans and their relationship to society—especially high society—are vividly portrayed. Thomas Hampson particularly, in his role as Giorgio, gets to act in a manner that the silly Salzburg production simply did not allow, and I think that consequently his performance is miles better than that one. He has an innate feeling for stage action, and everything he does is just perfect, maybe one of the highlights of his career. Fleming, as mentioned just now coming to this role, lacks the final degree of vocal excitement that Netrebko brings, but hers is a considered and very appropriate interpretation. Violetta really does carry this entire opera, a tour-de-force, almost a concerto for voice that varies greatly depending on which act is being sung, and she has to react dramatically as well. What Fleming neglects in terms of ultimate vocal prowess she adds in terms of spectacularly adept acting. And don’t get me wrong, she is in her late prime and still sounds fantastic. Joseph Calleja as the troubled and almost patsy-like son is every bit Rolando Villazon’s equal from Salzburg, and his dialogues with his father are heart-wrenching.
The entire color-scheme of this production seems coordinated with Fleming’s bright red hair, and the whole is extremely tasteful and beautiful. Even at around 50 Fleming is quite the looker and can easily convince us that she is 20 years younger. The filming is very well done, and puts to shame the same Royal Opera’s version with Solti and Angelina Gheorigiou some years back. The DTS HD surround sound is wonderful, while the Blu-ray visuals are crisp and vivid, nicely capturing the many shades of dark and light that appear in this opera. This is an easy recommendation.
— Steven Ritter